Above photo: The historic Roads Hotel was built in 1893 and is located in Atlanta, Indiana.
Story by Abby Carney; photos by Mary McClung
Abby is a Brooklyn-based writer and journalist from Atlanta. She has written about food, art, culture and everything in between for the Washington Post, Forbes, Texas Monthly and more. Follow her on Twitter. Mary McClung is a freelance food/editorial photographer based in Indianapolis. Her work can be found in local and regional magazines and online.
A back-roads investigation of the Hoosier state’s spooky side.
There’s more to Indiana than tractors, corn stalks, basketball and sugar cream pie. Indiana’s back roads have long been rumoured to contain mystery, apparitions and a wide spectrum of unexplained phenomena.
Now, I’m no nervous Nellie, but there’s enough alleged paranormal activity in Indiana to send a shiver down the staunchest skeptic’s spine. As I drove through the state recently, researching stories on Indiana’s best pies and Amish handicrafts, I also investigated some of Indiana’s haunted spots. Would I require an exorcist by the trip’s end? Likely not, but I was prepared to find out.
Starting in the state capital, I stopped by North Delaware Street in historical Meridian Park, home to the infamous Indianapolis Poltergeist. According to paranormal expert Troy Taylor’s website, “Ghosts of the Prairie,” in 1962 a woman lived in the two-story house along with her mother and daughter. Over the course of two weeks, the women were plagued by dishes and glasses that mysteriously shattered before their eyes. They also suffered from phantom bite marks on their skin.
I was curious if any spirits lingered in the new millennium. In the yard next door, I spied a headless gnome. The only sound was a steady drip-drip-drip as water trickled from the gutter into an empty Styrofoam container on the grass. Ominous, sure, but I wasn’t looking for garbage ghosts.
The roof was littered with children’s toys, including a Hulk action figure and a yellow Matchbox car. The screens were open and the porch had furniture, a grill and fresh chalk drawings. It was unclear whether the house was abandoned or simply in disrepair. I knocked twice. No answer. A passerby on his lunch break said he knew nothing of the haunting, but wished me luck. Overall, I saw signs of urban decay in the area, but my personal spook-o-meter registered zero shivers. Time to move on.
Next up was the historic Roads Hotel in Atlanta, population 725—home of the not-so-spooky New Earth Festival. According to the website Indiana Haunted Houses, the hotel was built in 1893 and was a layover stop for the railroad. Apparitions, voices, flickering lights, creaking doors that open and shut—according to legend, it all transpired at the Roads Hotel.
The empty streets felt eerie as a strong wind blew through, shaking the candelabra on the front porch and tilting a rocking chair. No one answered when I called. As I shivered outside the estate—chilly, not scared! —a sheriff’s car slowly circled. I moved to the side window to have a closer look and jumped at a sudden, high-pitched dog’s yip. Inside, I saw a plywood coffin as well as antiques, lace curtains, vases and a loveseat. I hadn’t yet encountered a ghost, but I was undaunted. My poltergeist prodding would continue, even if I had to summon the spirits myself!
Driving around the town of Peru, I nearly gave up on locating Hookman’s Cemetery (aka Tillett Cemetery), as it is difficult to spy from the road. It’s hidden on a forested hill beside an RV park and down the road from an industrial park. I must admit—there were sinister vibes in the air. Spooked as I crawled over fallen trees on the path to the graveyard, I called my boyfriend just so someone would know where I was. Just in case.
“You’re really scared, aren’t you?” he teased.
I had to confess, I was. Even though the Hookman is a classic urban legend—a murderous villain with a prosthetic hook who wanders around Lover’s Lane looking for victims—this graveyard got me. Traipsing through broken headstones, I felt a chill; I briefly wondered if the Hookman’s spirit could still be lurking. The crunch of leaves nearly made me jump out of my skin… It was just a few hikers.
Moving on, I decided to warm up with some haunted queso at the mansion that houses the flagship location of Hacienda Restaurant (a Mishawaka chain). The story is that a couple once lived in the mansion with their maid. The man impregnated the maid. The maid took her life in the attic, and he took his life in the basement; their spirits have haunted the place ever since. But the ghostly antics must be tame for the business to operate as successfully as it does. (There was a 30-minute wait on the Wednesday evening I investigated.)
I spoke with host and busser Christopher Hein, a teenager who grew up in the area and had worked at Hacienda for three months. His duties often took him to the basement, the most haunted area in the building, he said.
“One night I heard a man’s voice, a mumble. I couldn’t quite make out what he said, but I was creeped out, disturbed. I always feel a presence when I go down there. You can always feel the presence of footsteps. Sometimes you can even feel it pass like wind, even though the basement is completely still, which is very creepy.” Yikes!
After all my shenanigans and dead ends, I decided a nice meal in the Studebaker mansion’s dining room—the Tippecanoe Place Restaurant—would be a fine treat for this tired ghost hunter. I was surprised to find I was the mansion’s only guest for the evening. The expansive dining rooms were full of plush armchairs, antiques and art—but I dined alone. I poked at a Caprese salad and nursed a cocktail while house historian Doug Graczyk filled me in on the mansion’s haunted history.
It includes many spritely spirits, like the ghost of Clement Studebaker himself. Ol’ Clem is known to visit his office, announced by dropping temperature, the smell of cigars and pictures swinging on the wall. There are also more stoic ghosts, like the pregnant maid who hung herself from the stairwell when her suitor would not marry her. Graczyk and his co-workers say they regularly encounter the playful ghosts of Studebaker Mansion. Anomalies include flickering lights, singing children, mysterious orbs and apparitions that are caught on tape.
“In the master bedroom last week, our server was in there, and this vase came flying out of the hutch—the door flew open, and the vase flew out.”
All employees seem to have their own treasure chest of ghost stories.
Assistant manager Aaron Smith said, “I was leaving the ballroom one night, all set up for an event that evening, and something just didn’t feel right. So I took a couple of steps back, and one of the chairs was intentionally pulled out as if someone was sitting there. Little things like that happen all the time, and we just shrug our shoulders and try to ignore it.”
As they turned out the lights and put the mansion to bed for the night, I excused myself to the ladies room downstairs. I pushed through the darkness, silently urging any nearby spirits to leave me alone. I’d spent the entire trip seeking them out, but when it came down to it, I wasn’t sure I could handle the real deal. I rushed upstairs, two steps at a time, wished Doug and Aaron adieu and hightailed it out of there.